Here you can get to know NASA’s new Martian rover in detail: the Perseverance. This next-generation rover builds on the successes of its predecessors Spirit, Opportunity, and Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), also known as Curiosity. All of these roving robots have worked to help us better understand the fourth planet, Mars, and, in the broader realm of science, understanding the past biology and geology of other worlds. Now, the Perseverance rover from the Mars 2020 mission is looking to go even further.
The mission launched on July 30, 2020 and landed on Martian soil on February 18, 2021 . It flew on an Atlas V 541 rocket, which also launched Curiosity and InSight, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. However, the rover was not traveling alone. Alongside the Perseverance was a one-of-a-kind demonstration aircraft called the Mars Helicopter, more affectionately nicknamed Ingenuity. Now, after a half-year journey through space, the duo have begun work on their destination: Jezero Crater, located on the western edge of Isidis Planitia, just north of the Martian equator.
After a troubling seven minutes of terror, during which mission personnel held their breath as the rover carried out its atmospheric descent and landing, Perseverance has just started its one-year main mission period to Mars (687 days of terrestrial time). During this stage, Perseverance will survey the Martian surface for signs of ancient life , characterize its geology and climate, prepare for future human exploration, and collect rock samples for a future return mission.
” Perseverance is the most sophisticated and complex robotic mission we have ever sent to Mars . It has a new and updated scientific payload that makes it more suitable for looking for ancient signs of life in the rocky record of Mars than any previous mission to that planet, ”explains one of the associate scientists of the Mars 2020 project, Kathryn Stack Morgan when we speak with your team before the mission launch. “Previous explorers have scratched, brushed, and drilled rocks from Mars before, but Perseverance is the first explorer to collect and store intact rock samples . Perseverance’s sample caching system and test tubes were designed to ensure the scientific integrity of these samples for possible future return to Earth, and the mission has met its unprecedented requirements for biological cleanup and control of the contamination to achieve it. “
“One of the key objectives of Mars 2020 is to collect and package rock samples that could be returned to Earth on future missions. This concept is called Mars Sample Return, and it has been a target in the planetary scientific community for a long time, ”explains the other associate scientist on the Mars 2020 project, Ken Williford. “There are many scientific and technical reasons for bringing us samples from Mars, but one of the most exciting is the opportunity to use our most powerful laboratories on Earth to search for evidence of past lives .”
This innovation would not have been possible without the help of the missions that came before. The most obvious and recent example of this is Curiosity, and the two rovers share a nearly identical appearance. NASA has a habit of recycling space probe designs; for example, the currently operational InSight lander uses a design borrowed from the 2007 Phoenix lander. As the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
When asked what the visual differences were between Perseverance and Curiosity, Morgan replied: “For the former, thicker and stronger wheels than Curiosity have been redesigned, with a different pattern, and it is one of the most obvious visual differences. between the two. Perseverance’s turret, at the end of the rover’s arm, is also larger and heavier than Curiosity’s. “
Engaged fans may spot the differences, but updates are hard for the untrained eye to pick up on. Morgan explains the advantages of using an essentially identical design: “The use of print build designs for the Curiosity rover and its landing system allowed Mars 2020 to focus its resources on the new elements and state-of-the-art technology of the mission.”
” Perseverance has a new and updated scientific payload compared to Curiosity . The Mastcam-Z and SuperCam instruments build on the heritage of the latter’s Mastcam and ChemCam instruments, but other Perseverance instruments, such as the PIXL and the SHERLOC spectrometer, are completely new. Curiosity measures the chemistry, mineralogy, and organic content of rock samples in bulk format from powdered grains. In contrast, the Perseverance PIXL and SHERLOC instruments allow us to produce detailed maps of chemistry, mineralogy, organic matter, and texture without crushing the rocks. “
Seven new scientific instruments, such as the Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithium Chemistry (PIXL), the Scanning of Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organic and Chemical Compounds (SHERLOC), the SuperCam (this laser has already hit some rocks to detect their chemistry ) and the Mastcam-Z camera, they will explore the geology of the landing site at Jezero Crater, assess its water history and habitability, look for signs of past lives, and take some of those selfies of Mars we all adore. The Mastcam-Z, located on the mast, has already sent us photos of the landscape around the Jezero crater and some Martian rocks.
An experiment that will contribute to the Mars 2020 project, but was separated from the rover chassis upon arrival, is the Mars Helicopter or Ingenuity. It is simply a demonstration experiment in an environment where gravity is 62% less than on Earth, and last April it made its first Martian flight, one of five scheduled; in the last, fly over an area unknown to NASA. “The helicopter is intended to pave the way for future exploration of Mars. The Perseverance cameras were important in selecting a safe launch and landing area for the helicopter, ”says Williford. On April 30, rover Perseverance used one of his two microphones to listen to Ingenuity as it flew for the fourth time.
With this exceptional arsenal of research gadgets, the Mars 2020 mission is well equipped to reveal the secrets of Jezero Crater . But why this particular Martian site?
“Jezero Crater was chosen as the landing site for the Perseverance rover because it contains evidence of an ancient lake and delta that we believe was once habitable, ” Morgan says. And he adds: “It is known that the sediments of terrestrial deltas and lakes are great preservers of organic matter and evidence of life, and we hope that the signs of ancient Martian life are preserved in the rocks exposed in the Martian crater.”
Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, on their travels through Gusev Crater and Meridiani Planum, respectively, tracked the tracks of the water. Its main objective was to determine if Mars was ever a wet planet or not. Together they contributed to the popular hypothesis that Mars had oceans, lakes and a warmer atmosphere more than 3 billion years ago. A large number of rovers and orbiters were instrumental in reaching this conclusion. The European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have even suggested that water ice still exists at the planet’s poles.
Now, the Perseverance Mars 2020 rover can build on this astonishing legacy of discoveries and focus on whether there was ever life on the red planet . It is generally accepted that a hot and humid planet, such as Mars was, is ideal for life as we know it to emerge. Since Jezero Crater, as a former lake and delta, is an excellent candidate for scrutiny, scientists will finally be able to answer the all-important question of whether there has ever been life in other parts of the Solar System.
“If we see chemical elements, minerals, and organic molecules that tend to be associated with life, and especially if we see these things arranged in spatial patterns that suggest biological activity, it could be evidence of past life on Mars,” says Williford.
It could be the case that in the near future humans are walking on Mars . NASA and other global space agencies and private companies are seeking to visit, inhabit and colonize that world. Although all of this will happen in small stages over the next several decades, NASA’s current intention is to return to the Moon in the near future and then to Mars. Perseverance and perseverance will help in this dream of interplanetary exploration.
As Williford explains, Mars 2020 “has a meteorological station called MEDA that is provided by Spain and will improve our understanding of the surface conditions that astronauts would experience. We have an instrument called MOXIE that takes carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere and converts it into oxygen. ” Last February, this toaster-sized device managed to extract oxygen from the inhospitable world for the first time.
As seen with previous NASA missions, the public has once again been able to register to be part of this effort. Similar to previous launches of the space agency’s InSight and Parker Solar Probe missions, NASA created the Send Your Name to Mars campaign, which has resulted in 10,932,295 people having their names etched onto three silicon chips the size of a fingernail using electron beams. These three chips were attached to an anodized plate that also had a laser-etched graphic representing Earth and Mars on either side of the Sun, as it shines on both planets, similar to some representations of the gold discs shipped aboard the NASA Voyager space probes. This extraordinary rover carries the expectations of more than ten million people on its robotic shoulders, a mission that promises to deliver major surprises while it lasts.
Meanwhile, the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) has sent an adventure companion for Perseverance . On May 14, the Zhurong rover from the Tianwen-1 mission landed in the planet’s northern hemisphere. The river landed on Utopia Planitia, a great plain that may have been an ancient Martian ocean.